When I set out to write my first novel, I hadn't realized just yet I was missing the one key factor required by a good story. Sure, I had interesting characters and great settings and lots of really good (sorry...inner thesaurus has crashed...[A]bort, [R]etry, [I]gnore?...) situations, but I lost interest because I was lacking conflict.
My characters would react to the situations around them and the dilemmas I'd thrown at them, but they would just move on to the next situation. And...that's it. They'd react to the situation, everybody'd cheer and celebrate their success and...move on. Whee. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong that made me abandon several novels-to-be mid stride (well, there is that superstition where I never show anybody my work until I've finished Draft 0 that's done me in a few times) (there was this sale on parentheses at K-Mart...)
After I'd completed my first NaNoWriMo in 2004, I finally figured out what had happened: I was missing conflict in my previous attempts.
Oh, sure, I knew what was going to happen in the futuristic urban fantasy I'd started and quit on several occasions ([I]gnore), but the conclusion was foregone; if I'd continued the tangent, I simply would have had everybody reacting to these nifty-keeno situations (a lot of them I'd love to use because I enjoyed how they turned out) and have everything neatly wrapped up in a pretty blue ribbon in the final chapter, roll the credits, fade to black, the end. Not much motivation for the protagonists to move forward but to meet this unnamed force, defeat it, and win.
Sounded incredibly bland and generic to me.
Then after I'd finished But I Never Said I Didn't Love You, I tried to analyze what worked for that when I'd failed in previous attempts.
It's your standard romantic comedy triangle and inherent wackiness therein.
Temple Of The Seventh Blessing, the futuristic urban fantasy, is pretty linear and flat in its storyline. The four characters meet up, have to defeat the unnamed force that conspires against them and the rest of the world, and they win. *Yawn.* Not much room for deviation. In But I Never Said I Didn't Love You, I actually had three possible outcomes: Callum chooses Brian, Callum chooses Simon, Callum wanders off alone.
Conflict is the primary force that works on the protagonist and pushes him forward to the end of the story. True, I had that in Temple Of The Seventh Blessing, but there was no real growth, no real personal struggle, no real reason the four main characters got together, other than to defeat the foe. It was a series of "oh, look, it's a trap. Oh, look, we've escaped the trap. Oh, look, we're on the road again. Oh, look, it's another trap, etc." events and the true villain wasn't revealed until the final chapter (trite? cliche? You bet!) Yeah, saving the world from destruction is an admirable goal but again, I couldn't see how the characters were moving forward and growing. It's all external (physical) when good conflict also involves internal (emotional).
In But I Never Said I Didn't Love You, the conflict is emotional but it's there. The story isn't quite so linear, the characters encountering more bumps along the way, but in the end, they do progress and grow as the story reaches its conclusion. Not in the "you know, I've learned a very important lesson today" sense, thankfully. A better mix of the external/physical and internal/emotional forces helped bring about better reactions of the characters to these forces, and helped me craft a better story where I actually cared about who these people are and what they were doing. Yeah, none of them are rilly kewl elemental magic users who ride motorcycles in a futuristic society (at least not until I write the self-fanfic self-parody!) (Yes, I am KIDDING!), but I'd found that third dimension I'd been missing in previous novel attempts.